This is what the nation is struggling with in response to Talansky’s testimony yesterday. It is not simply a question of illegality, but of out-and-out sleaze. Asking for money in unmarked envelopes instead of by check over a period of many years. Requesting loans for extravagances and never repaying them, even when asked to do so.
There is the sense on the left and the right that Olmert is not a man who can head this nation. The focus is quality government, which is not a political issue tilting one way or the other. A rabbi is calling on other rabbis to camp outside Olmert’s home until he quits. An "Envelope Movement" has started, with people printing up "Olmert go home" on envelopes, passing them out and putting them in public places. And now I’m hearing about demonstrations in the streets.
Perhaps most significantly, Barak, who is head of Labor, at a press conference this afternoon, has now called upon Olmert to step down:
"In the wake of the current situation and considering the challenges Israel faces…the prime minister cannot simultaneously lead the government and conduct his personal affairs.
"Out of consideration for the good of the country and the accepted norms, I believe the prime minister must detach himself from the day-to-day leadership of the country."
Barak suggested that the choice of whether to resign or temporarily suspend himself remained Olmert’s. He indicated that if Olmert did neither, "we will move towards early elections."
From several quarters criticism is being leveled at Barak for neither quitting the coalition now, nor setting a timetable for doing so if Olmert fails to act. There is concern that his words were not strong enough, and that he may be grandstanding rather than speaking sincerely.
MK Zevulun Orlev gave voice to this when expressing unease that Barak might "repeat the false promises he made at Kibbutz Sdot Yam at his infamous press conference in June 2007." That’s when he promised to quit after the final Winograd report was issued, although when time came, he did not.
Part of what’s going on here, of course, is Barak’s fear that in elections he would be trounced by Netanyahu.
Three Labor MKs, acting more decisively , moved to dissolve the Knesset. There is a process, however, and this does not automatically come to a vote.
MK Eli Yishai (head of the Shas faction) is behaving in his usual pathetic manner. "I’m not going to get emotional about this," he said, while explaining that he was still backing Olmert. He will now be consulting the Council of Sages that guides Shas.
Needless to say, there is a lot of backroom caucusing taking place as people try to position themselves, within their own parties and in relationship to the other parties.
Early rumors have spread of a Labor-Likud national emergency government that would leave Kadima in the cold.
As would be expected, tension between Labor and Kadima is considerable.
And Olmert? He’s a man without shame. In the face of all that was publicly revealed yesterday, he refuses to step down. Says his strategic adviser, Tal Zilberstein, this would be an admission of guilt. His lawyers are claiming that there’s nothing new in Talansky’s testimony and that Olmert’s innocence will be proven.
Ultimately it will be up to the prosecutors and court to determine legal guilt, although when one hears about more than $300,000 allegedly transferred from Talansky’s corporations to Olmert’s lawyer, Messer, one does begin to suspect that there was more going on than Talansky’s pure love for the mayor of Jerusalem.
But the other guilt — of impropriety, of lack of ethical behavior — is staring us all in the face.
Abbas is worried that all of this turmoil will affect negotiations. Let’s hope so.